2016’s Best Gift Cards
Gift cards are supposed to make gift-giving simpler, reducing the need to worry about the recipient’s tastes and what specific items he or she might already have. But not all gift cards are created equal, which might help explain why nearly $1 billion in value went unused in 2015, despite gift cards being the most popular type of present for the ninth consecutive year.
So in the interest of helping you find the best gift cards for any occasion – whether a birthday, holiday, graduation, etc. – we compared the 50 most popular options across five major categories: 1) card popularity; 2) average discount; 3) average resale value; 4) retailer appeal; and 5) shipping fees.
2016’s Best Gift Cards
Gift Card Popularity Rank
Average Buyer Discount
Average Resale Value ($100 gift card)
Retailer Rating (out of 5)
|Target Gift Card||65||6||$0.00||2.37%||$81.88||3.03|
|Netflix Gift Card||65||9||$0.00||2.56%||$81.75||3.47|
|Walmart Gift Card||60||5||$0.00||1.76%||$83.94||2.02|
|Amazon Gift Card||60||1||$0.00||1.43%||$77.50||3.35|
|Best Buy Gift Card||55||15||$0.00||3.67%||$83.12||2.34|
|Costco Gift Card||55||13||$0.00||4.00%||$82.67||2.22|
|Dunkin Donuts Gift Card||55||27||$1.95||11.47%||$70.49||4.00|
|T.J. Maxx Gift Card||55||41||$0.00||12.70%||$68.47||4.08|
|iTunes Gift Card||55||3||$0.00||5.75%||$60.00||2.57|
|Starbucks Gift Card||50||7||$0.00||5.00%||$73.85||2.32|
|Google Play Gift Card||50||8||$0.00||1.74%||$70.87||3.12|
|eBay Gift Card||50||10||$0.00||0.74%||$75.70||2.13|
|Victoria's Secret Gift Card||50||14||$0.00||5.38%||$70.21||2.58|
|Home Depot Gift Card||50||17||$0.00||3.57%||$79.75||3.08|
|Apple Store Gift Card||50||20||$0.00||2.74%||$81.67||2.23|
|McDonald's Gift Card||50||23||$0.00||11.41%||$70.85||1.78|
|Nike Gift Card||50||24||$0.00||2.10%||$93.66||2.02|
|Lowe’s Gift Card||50||25||$0.00||5.12%||$76.25||2.48|
|Nordstrom Gift Card||50||31||$0.00||5.29%||$80.80||2.43|
|Chipotle Gift Card||50||35||$0.00||4.06%||$75.41||4.22|
|Olive Garden Gift Card||50||39||$1.95||12.20%||$69.02||4.15|
|Walgreens Gift Cards||50||45||$0.00||10.47%||$73.67||2.03|
|Visa Gift Card||45||2||$0.00||N/A||N/A||3.30|
|Restaurant Gift Card||45||33||$0.00||N/A||N/A||1.72|
|Whole Foods Gift Card||45||44||$0.00||2.13%||$78.67||3.45|
|Kroger Gift Card||45||22||$0.00||1.50%||$76.67||3.34|
|Rei Gift Card||45||48||$0.00||6.53%||$76.47||2.62|
|GameStop Gift Card||40||26||$0.00||8.41%||$75.68||1.75|
|Sephora Gift card||45||12||$0.00||1.52%||$75.65||2.78|
|Macy’s Gift Card||45||21||$0.00||8.52%||$74.79||2.01|
|Fandango Gift Card||45||34||$0.00||12.06%||$70.94||1.20|
|Taco Bell Gift Card||45||49||$0.00||12.46%||$59.27||3.35|
|H&M Gift Card||45||29||$0.00||21.67%||$55.67||1.77|
|American Express Gift Card||40||4||$5.95||N/A||N/A||3.33|
|Safeway Gift Cards||40||50||$0.00||1.90%||$83.04||2.47|
|Giant Eagle Gift Card||40||18||$0.00||2.00%||$79.33||N/A|
|Toys R Us Gift Card||40||32||$0.00||2.08%||$76.90||2.42|
|Ikea Gift Card||40||19||$0.00||3.01%||$74.22||2.88|
|Disney Gift Card||35||11||$0.00||1.35%||$72.50||1.47|
|Subway Gift Card||40||30||$0.00||7.00%||$72.29||2.62|
|Forever 21 Gift Card||40||36||$0.00||12.87%||$61.17||1.75|
|Ticketmaster Gift Card||35||37||$0.00||N/A||$81.31||0.82|
|Kohls Gift Card||35||42||$0.00||2.67%||$75.26||1.61|
|Chick-Fil-A Gift Card||35||43||$0.00||7.50%||$72.59||N/A|
|Cabelas Gift Card||35||47||$0.00||9.37%||$72.34||1.90|
|MasterCard Gift Card||25||16||$0.00||N/A||N/A||2.05|
|Shell Gift Card||30||46||$2.95||1.00%||$81.87||N/A|
|Tim Hortons Gift Card||30||40||$1.49||N/A||$72.11||3.93|
|Zara Gift Card||20||38||$0.00||N/A||$68.64||1.20|
|Etsy Gift Card||15||28||$0.00||N/A||N/A||1.67|
10 Tips For Getting The Best Gift Card
There are a handful of things we can count on every holiday season: time off from work and school; an overweight, bearded out-of-towner breaking into homes through the chimney; tone-deaf neighbors singing at your doorstep; embarrassing antics at office holiday parties; eating a bit too much; and, of course, gift cards. They’re everywhere this time of year, and for good reason: people generally love them.
But you don’t want yours to be just one gift card among many received by your intended recipient(s) this year. You’d probably prefer it to be enjoyed rather than forgotten in a drawer full of clutter. And you certainly want to get a good deal, because who doesn’t? Given that your gift card strategy can make or break the holiday season, particularly the budget component, we compiled a list of 10 great tips for gift card success. You can find them below. Shop wisely!
- Look For A Discount. You might assume that sales and savings don’t apply to the gift card market, since gift cards are more like currency than retail products with traditional product margins. That’s not the case, however, as the best gift cards can all be bought for less than face value. You can learn where to look from our article on the best gift card exchanges.
Avoid Card-Network Gift Cards. Gift cards from Visa, MasterCard and Discover might seem like they’re as good as cash, since they can be used anywhere, but they’re actually quite inferior. While retailers make money immediately when one of their gift cards gets purchased, these card-network gift cards make money from fees. There’s generally a fee of at least $3.95 when you purchase such a gift card, followed by a $2.50 monthly inactivity fee if the card isn’t used for 12 consecutive months.
So if you want the versatility of cash, why not just use cash instead? It will certainly be cheaper. That’s why we didn’t include any card-network gift cards in our list of the year’s best gift cards.
Don’t Confuse Gift Cards & Prepaid Cards. Despite often being displayed next to each other in stores, gift cards and prepaid cards are very different animals. Gift cards are designed to be used only until the original balance is gone. Prepaid cards, on the other hand, are reloadable and designed to serve the same purpose as a checking account with a debit card.
Prepaid cards also have a lot of different fees associated with them, so giving one to someone instead of a gift card could result in the recipient not getting as much value as you intended. In fact, the average prepaid card has 10 separate fees, according to our latest Prepaid Card Report, and the wrong prepaid card could cost an individual up to $311 per year if used incorrectly
Beware Loyalty Cards. A loophole in the law allows non-reloadable prepaid cards (aka gift cards) that are received through a loyalty, award or promotional program to expire with no restriction. For context, normal gift cards cannot expire until five years from the date of issuance.
It’s therefore important for consumers to verify that they are indeed buying/receiving actual gift cards this holiday season and to read any applicable fine print related to their product.
- Resale Is Always An Option. If you don’t end up using a particular gift card or the recipient doesn’t like it, you’re not out of luck. Rather, you can sell it on a gift card exchange or simply swap gift cards with a friend or family member. To learn more about these options, check out our editors’ picks for the year’s best gift card exchanges.
- When In Doubt, Just Give Cash. Cold, hard cash might seem a bit less personal than a gift card, but it completely eliminates guess work from the equation and is the most versatile gift anyone can give. Plus, you might be able to give your recipient more value without shipping fees or shopping trips to worry about.
Tap Into Unredeemed Value. Have you contributed to the billions of dollars in gift cards that have gone unredeemed in recent years? Check your drawers and find out. Any gift card from the past five years is most likely still good.
You have three basic options when it comes to unlocking the value of unused gift cards. First, you can sell unwanted gift cards for cash. Secondly, most stores allow you to trade in old, unused gift cards for new ones, which is great news for re-gifting cards that have developed noticeable wear and tear as a result of sitting idle for years. Finally, most states have programs that allow you to recoup unused funds from expired gift cards under unclaimed property laws.
- Buy Gift Cards With Rewards. Most credit card rewards programs allow you to redeem your points/miles for gift cards from a wide variety of major retailers. In many cases, you can garner more value from this type of redemption strategy than redeeming for cash. For example, under Citibank’s rewards program, you need 10,000 ThankYou points to get $50 in cash back, whereas you only need 5,000 points (50% fewer) for a $50 gift card.
E-Gift Cards Are Great In A Time Crunch. E-gift cards have been gaining traction in recent years, and increased mobile functionality stands to foster more widespread use of such products this holiday season. That’s good news for time-crunched shoppers who want to avoid the shipping fees that many major retailers charge for physical gift cards ordered online.
“E-cards make redemption easier in terms of logistics, time, and salience (once you enter the card number to your account, the money is there waiting to be used),” says Ayelet Gneezy, associate professor of marketing in the University of California, San Diego’s Rady School of Management. “In short, this is one domain where I expect digital to provide consumers great value.”
- Avoid Using Gift Cards As An Excuse To Overspend. When redeeming gift cards, two-thirds of consumers spend more than their cards’ face value, according to Consumer Reports. This is likely due to the same psychological factor that leads consumers to spend more with credit cards than cash: the money somehow seems less real. While gift cards can be quite useful in subsidizing the cost of large purchases, you should be especially cognizant of your spending when using a gift card, so as to avoid unnecessary expenses.
Gift Card Popularity Over Time
The following gift cards are projected to be the most popular among consumers this holiday season, according to WalletHub data.
|Gift Card||2016 Popularity Rank||Change From 2015 Rank||Change From 2014 Rank|
|Amazon Gift Card||1||↑1||↑1|
|Visa Gift Card||2||↓1||↓1|
|iTunes Gift Card||3||↑1||-|
|American Express Gift Card||4||↓1||-|
|Walmart Gift Card||5||-||↑1|
|Target Gift Card||6||-||↑1|
|Starbucks Gift Card||7||-||↑3|
|Google Play Gift Card||8||↑2||-|
|Netflix Gift Card||9||↓1||↓4|
|eBay Gift Card||10||↓1||↓1|
|Disney Gift Card||11||↑2||↑5|
|Sephora Gift Card||12||↑4||↑2|
|Costco Gift Card||13||↑6||↑7|
|Victoria's Secret Gift Card||14||↑28||↑25|
|Best Buy Gift Card||15||-||-|
|MasterCard Gift Card||16||↓5||↓5|
|Home Depot Gift Card||17||-||↑12|
|Giant Eagle Gift Card||18||↑126||↓10|
|Ikea Gift Card||19||↑4||↓6|
|Apple Store Gift Card||20||↑10||↑12|
|Macy’s Gift Card||21||↓7||↓9|
|Kroger Gift Card||22||↑40||↑54|
|McDonald's Gift Card||23||↓5||↑5|
|Nike Gift Card||24||↑9||↑9|
|Lowe’s Gift Card||25||↓3||↓4|
|Gamestop Gift Card||26||↓1||↓9|
|Dunkin Donuts Gift Card||27||↓3||↓5|
|Etsy Gift Card||28||↓7||↓1|
|H&M Gift Card||29||↑2||↑5|
|Subway Gift Card||30||↑2||↑6|
|Nordstrom Gift Card||31||↓5||↓7|
|Toys R Us Gift Card||32||↑4||↑5|
|Restaurant Gift Card||33||↑90||↓21|
|Fandango Gift Card||34||↓22||↓16|
|Chipotle Gift Card||35||↓15||↓12|
|Forever 21 Gift Card||36||↓8||↓11|
|Ticketmaster Gift Card||37||↓10||↓18|
|Zara Gift Card||38||↑61||↑11|
|Olive Garden Gift Card||39||↓5||↓13|
|Tim Hortons Gift Card||40||↑104||↓4|
|T.J. Maxx Gift Card||41||↓1||↑13|
|Kohls Gift Card||42||↑13||↑19|
|Chick-Fil-A Gift Card||43||↓4||↑8|
|Whole Foods Gift Card||44||↓15||↓13|
|Walgreens Gift Cards||45||↑64||↓13|
|Shell Gift Card||46||↓9||↓4|
|Cabelas Gift Card||47||↑37||↓34|
|Rei Gift Card||48||↓13||↓18|
|Taco Bell Gift Card||49||↓11||↓11|
|Safeway Gift Cards||50||↑12||↑21|
To identify the year’s best gift cards, WalletHub compared the cards affiliated with the country’s 100 largest retailers in five categories that speak to their appeal and overall value. Each gift card was scored on a 100-point scale, with 100 representing the best option. Below, you can find the grading rubric that we used to calculate these overall WalletHub Scores. Cards for which discount, resale or store-rating information was not available were given 0 points in those respective categories.
Gift Card Popularity Rank (30 points max): We used the number of people who search for each gift card online as a proxy for its popularity.
- 30 points: Ranks 1 to 5
- 25 points: Ranks 6 to 10
- 20 points: Ranks 11 to 15
- 15 points: Ranks 16 to 25
- 10 points: Ranks 26 to 50
- 5 points: Ranks 51 to 75
- 0 points: Ranks 76+
Average Buyer Discount (30 points max): We checked the major gift card exchanges to see what kind of discount buyers can get on each card. For sites that don’t buy gift cards directly, we used their recommended selling price.
- 30 points: 15.00%+
- 20 points: 10.00% to 14.99%
- 10 points: 5.00% to 9.99%
- 5 points: 2.00% to 4.99%
- 0 points: < 2.00%
Average Resale Value (20 points): To account for the potential that you don’t end up using a gift card that you purchase or receive, we determined how much a seller could get for a $100 gift card from each retailer on the major gift card exchanges.
- 20 points: $80.00+
- 15 points: $75.00 to $79.99
- 10 points: $70.00 to $74.99
- 5 points: $60.00 to $69.99
- 0 points: < $60.00
Retailer Rating (15 points): The customer experience at a given retailer obviously affects the intrinsic value of its gift cards. So we obtained user ratings for each retailer from a number of popular review sites and averaged them to provide a broad sense of how well –liked each is.
- 15 points: 4.0 to 5.0
- 10 points: 3.0 to 3.9
- 5 points: 2.0 to 2.9
- 0 points: < 2.0
Shipping Fees (5 points): Any amount spent on shipping a physical gift card reduces the amount you can allocate to the gift itself and eats away at any discount you were able to obtain.
- 5 points: No fees
- 0 points: Fees
Image: adekvat / iStock.
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